Saturday, May 28, 2016

PSA: Still Alive & Finally an Update!!!

Hello everyone!

I know its been a long time since I’ve updated y’all, and I apologize for that. Since I last spoke to many of you, A LOT has happened and my plate has been very, very full recently. As my time with YASC in Costa Rica is coming to an end (coming home July 10th!), I thought in this blog post I would reflect on some of the things I have learned this past year. As an educator, I think sometimes we freak out that our students aren’t learning enough, our lesson plans aren’t perfect, etc, but this has also been a huge learning experience for me, too.

(Pretty view during a hike in Monteverde)

For the past four months, I have been teaching completely by myself (not in a duo like a few months ago) and creating my own curriculum. It has been quite a whirlwind. At times I feel very overwhelmed and some days are absolutely crazy, since I am constantly running back and forth between two schools and doing a two-person job by myself. I genuinely love most of my students, but the behavior still continues to be a problem I deal with on a constant basis. I have some classes that are absolutely adorable (like my preschoolers who just MELT my heart everyday) and then some classes that are just absolute chaos.

(Little cuties performing for El Día de Trabajo, or the Costa Rican Labor Day)

This might be a strange thing to remark on, because sometimes my days are so ridiculous I feel like I’m on a reality tv show, but I am REALLY proud of myself. I never thought I would be able to do all this workload by myself. I have created a curriculum for 8 different groups of children between the ages of 4-12 with varying abilities, taught all by myself, and learned how to effectively control a classroom of easily distracted children all in Spanish. I have also learned I can be a force to be reckoned with when I use my “teacher voice” (you know, the voice your teachers always used when you or your classmates were goofing off and it kinda scared you into paying attention? Yeah, I’ve mastered that).

(My sweet puppy Canelo who I adopted after he wandered into our gate - more on him to come in my next post!)

I feel like even though I’ve always been super bubbly and extroverted (hello, I was Tour Guide Kate for four years!), speaking in front of a classroom always scared the crap out of me, for lack of better words. In college I had the terrible habit of staying up all night before a big presentation, going over and over the material because I was so nervous. The next day, I would be basically a mess and on so much caffeine that I would inevitably still be shaky and end up fumbling my words, talking too fast, or feel lightheaded (read: what NOT to do in college). Now, I can go in front of a large group of students and command a room entirely in Spanish, which is something I NEVER thought I would be able to do. Although I still write down my lessons, now I do more of a rough plan and just wing the rest. I can do this now not only because I have more Spanish, but because I have more confidence in my abilities here, as well.

(Las Ruinas del Resurrección - A beautiful abandoned monastary in Antigua, Guatemala)

I don’t want this to get too lengthy because I know y’all have better things to do than just read my rants. I think that one thing a lot of us do (especially women) is get nervous and kinda freak out, and intently apologize after. I used to be the worst at this, constantly saying “I’m sorry” and getting frazzled when things don’t go exactly as planned. This year I not only learned to be confident in front of a crowd, but also just to CHILL OUT and have faith that it will somehow all work out. Half the time this year I felt like everything was crumbling before my eyes, but it comes to a point where you have done all you can and that’s all you can do. And guess what? It all somehow works out in the end (with the help of caffeine, some deep breathing exercises, and a little faith to top it off).

(All of the YASCers meeting the wonderful Bishop Michael Curry at a Conference in Ponce, Puerto Rico)

I am planning on doing a recap post of all my travels this upcoming week (and yes I PROMISE it’ll be this week!!). I just wanted to do a little post to let everyone know I’m alive and well. Thank you so much to everyone who has given me so much love and support throughout this whole process. I am so so grateful <3

Muchos Besos,


Kate

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Coming Back (Isn't Always Easy...)

Hey Everyone!


I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season filled with lots of love and family. I will admit that my Christmas and New Years went a bit unplanned. As you may have heard, the cruise my parents, sister, and I had planned was ended abruptly when the boat hit a coral reef after going through the Panama Canal. Yes, we were shipwrecked. Another classic Snow family vacation for the books! As unfortunate as having our holiday ruined was, I was planning to go home with my parents anyway after our vacation due to family reasons, so it was nice to spend a couple extra days at home.

Melinda and I in the Casco Viejo of Panama City!

Cool house in the Casco Viejo. Such a fun neighborhood!

Maybe we should have paid more attention during the lifeboat drill instead of taking selfies? Nah, normalcy would've been very un-Snow-like

First lock of the Panama Canal! I only watched us go through the first two locks because it takes NINE HOURS to go through the whole thing!

My beautiful Mama <3

What do you do when you are stuck on a random island for 15 hours? Obviously take pictures of the listing boat behind you

Home at last with this nugget :)

As much as I loved being home, I will admit there is a reason YASC does not want its participants to return home during their year abroad. This is because it can be VERY difficult to go back. As wonderful of an experience living in Costa Rica has been, I will admit that it was tough to say goodbye once again to the life I had left behind in America. I had forgotten how much I missed just talking to my Mom in the kitchen, taking my dog on long walks, my Dad making breakfast every weekend morning, and seeing my friends back in DC who are all starting out new jobs together and moving into apartments around the city. There was no struggling with my Spanglish, chaos in my classroom, or massive insects wandering into my kitchen. Everything was SO easy! This, and leaving behind my family once again was so tough. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have tears rolling down my cheeks as I went through security at Reagan National Airport on my way back to San José.


The thing that struck me the most about being home is that despite the chillier temperature, it seemed like nothing had changed. My dog still freaked out when I came through the door, the shrimp green curry from my favorite Thai place still tasted amazing, my room (which I so lovingly decorated straight from PB Teen circa 2005) still had the same baby blue walls, and I seemed to pick up right where I left off with all the loved ones I saw. As much as I love Costa Rica, it is hard sometimes just because it is SO different and a constant struggle adjusting to living in Latin America, and remembering that life around the world isn't as easy as it is in the U.S.


As hard as my return to Costa Rica and my "old life" was, it also made me remember all the good things I have in here, and everything I wouldn't have if I didn’t do YASC. I have made friends who are in placements all over the world, and met the wonderful guy I’m lucky enough to call my boyfriend. In Costa Rica, my Spanish has improved dramatically, I have a job that challenges me everyday, I have met some incredible people, and I have grown so much closer to my faith. My students run up and hug me everyday and tell me “Te amo Teacher Kate!” (I love you Teacher Kate). Our hilarious housekeeper Laura has taught me all the vocabulary necessary to be my sassy self even in Central America. Anyone who knew me in college would say that I am the biggest diva around, and I think this experience has made me really step off my pedestal, put my guard down, and learn from those around me (although the sass is here to stay; sorry folks). Thinking about all the good things makes everything so, so, much easier.


First and foremost though, I try to think about why I did this, and why I wanted so badly to do something different out of college rather than slaving away at an entry level job in cubicle land. I think about how badly I wanted to give back after I was given all the privileges in the world growing up, and how I feel like I have learned more than I could EVER teach from the people here. It has made me remember how this experience makes me seek God more than I ever have before, and how much closer I have gotten to my Episcopal faith by being here.


I guess this whole rant basically just sums up the fact that although homesickness is legit, I would never give up this experience for the world. Although coming back isn’t always easy, it’s definitely worth so, so it. My friends, family, and future job opportunities will still be waiting for me when I step off my plane this summer, and my time to be a high-powered-DC-yuppie/boss-lady will come in due time. But for now the most important thing for me is to remember why I’m here, and how much I still have to learn from Costa Rica and its people. Besides, nothing that is easy is ever worth it.


Muchos Besos,

Kate

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Reflections Three Months In

Hey Everyone!


I hope you all have been well. I apologize for the delay in posts. My college procrastination habits, combined with a chaotic schedule, are surely getting the best of me once again. To be perfectly honest, I was nervous to write for awhile. I feel like in my blog posts I have a certain responsibility to fulfill a lot of quotas; they need to be funny yet serious, light-hearted yet deep, and of course include lots of cool photos (which, don’t worry, I have plenty of).  


While I have been getting into a routine here in Costa Rica, I still honestly lack a lot confidence in my abilities here. While I generally think of myself as a very capable, efficient person, teaching is a whole new ballgame. Alé and I have started dividing up the lesson planning/class leading by grade level, and so I have been creating lessons for two different classes of children ages 4-6. I genuinely LOVE my students, and I love how curious, funny, and sweet they are. However, classroom behavior has been a really big problem. Since most of these kids come from very rough neighborhoods and have never really had discipline before, they don’t really understand what proper classroom behavior is. Sometimes I legitimately have trouble teaching because I am trying to get them to settle down the entire time. To be perfectly honest, I sometimes feel like a failure. I was sent on my mission here in Costa Rica to teach and create an English curriculum, and I can’t help but feel like I suck at my job sometimes.


The traumatic terrorist attacks of last weekend really made me think and pray a great deal. It made me think of the pain and trauma the victims and their families went/are going through. It made me really contemplate the refugee crisis, and the terror that thousands of people are trying to escape in order to keep their families safe. It also made me think about the future, and what is going to become of our world in years to come.


When I look at my students, sometimes I have to remind myself that they hold the future in their hands. I also have to remind myself of what their home lives are like, and the fact that these kids face the reality of poverty and violence on a daily basis. Some have parents who are drug addicts and prostitutes, and many go to bed hungry at night. For many of them, an education is really their only ticket out of the dangerous cycle of poverty. In order to receive that education, they need a safe and loving school like Hogar Escuela. They also need teachers who won’t give up on them, and remind them that they CAN make something of themselves.


For a long time, I stressed over whether I was doing my planned lessons and activities the “right” way. While I have been doing my research and doing my best, it simply just doesn’t always go as planned when working with such small kids. I have also started to learn that it is okay! They will eventually learn how to pronounce the letter “B” and the letter “D” distinctly, and the world will keep spinning even if I end up with finger paint in my hair. What counts is that these kids have a safe place to learn, grow, and be loved; a luxury many of their counterparts around the world can only dream of.


Although my job is technically to teach these kids, I can’t help but feel as if sometimes I learn more from them than they do from me. Everyday I see what unconditional energy, enthusiasm, and love they radiate. When Alejandra and I walk into a room, we are greeted by a mob of tiny students with huge hugs. When I walk into Hogar Escuela, I truly see God’s work; not only in the smiling faces of the kids, but what this place represents: opportunity, education, hope, and so much love. I am truly humbled to be a part of it all.




When the lovely Emilie Street came to visit!!!

Iglesia Episcopal La Ascensión construction site

Braulio Carillo Parque Nacional

Manzanillo, Limón



Muchos Besos,

Kate 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Well, better late than never! Reflections from the past 3.5 weeks

Hi everyone!

I apologize for writing you all so late. I meant to post a couple days after I arrived, but I really wanted for my first blog post in Costa Rica to have depth which I had not been able to find the words for yet. I apologize that this post is a lot longer than I intended it to be, but a lot has been happening these past 3 ½ weeks!

Well first off, my fellow teacher Alejandra and I have safely arrived in Costa Rica. Despite some complications at the airport, we arrived safely and were greeted warmly by the staff of the diocesan office where we are staying. The first week we were given some time to get settled in the city, lesson plan, visit the schools, and get to know some of the wonderful Tico people who we would be living and working with. We have been lucky enough to visit the beautiful mountain town of San Ramón, a church visit to Limón with the Bishop, and we escaped this past weekend to Marino Ballena National Park near Playa Uvita for some whale watching/beach time.




These past few weeks, Alé and I have been teaching at both branches of the Hogar Escuela, one in the Barrio Cuba and one in the nearby town of Heredía. We have begun teaching two different age groups, one with preescolares (4-6 years old) and another with escolares (6-12 years old). We have started out by teaching them some basic English greetings, numbers, vocabulary, and colors, and all of the students seem really enthusiastic so far.

Despite all the good things, it has not all been bells and whistles. Teaching in such difficult neighborhoods has meant that Alé and I have had quite a few discipline problems with the kids, and many are extremely behind academically. Unlike the rest of Costa Rica, San José is a gritty and crowded city, with many dangerous neighborhoods. Many residents of these poorer neighborhoods have long, hard days, and poverty is very evident. While the expansive tourism industry has lead to economic growth, it also means that the standard of living has risen to above what many Ticos can afford. While the upper class is thriving, many ordinary citizens can barely make ends meet.

Before I came to Costa Rica, I admittedly had some preconceived notions regarding what this country would be like. All the people I talked to and the guide books I read touted the beautiful beaches, rainforests, and “pura vida” lifestyle. Obviously this is what the tourist industry thrives on, and the country is undoubtedly spectacularly beautiful. However, every single day I am still so struck by how vastly different this tourist paradise contrasts the life of many of the Ticos I have met. While the San José airport is jam-packed with tourists carrying surf boards and wealthy retirees looking to buy up beachfront properties, residents of Heredía and the Barrio Cuba neighborhoods are struggling to survive. The other day, Alé and I talked with a local taxi driver who was trying to move to Canada because he could no longer support his family due to the rising costs of living. Although the country is certainly gentrifying itself, it is making everyday life difficult for many people.

I am definitely not trying to guilt-trip any wanderlusters wanting to come to Costa Rica. Hey, I am loving my weekend excursions outside the city! Vacationers also help the economy and provide countless jobs. For me, I am just really seeing the “other side” of it all now. As someone who has never experienced poverty before, I sympathize with the local people who are struggling to make ends meet. It breaks my heart knowing that many of my students will go home tonight and go to bed hungry. As frustrating and exhausting as it is to constantly have behavior problems in class, I know these kids truly do not know any better due to the tough neighborhoods they come from.

What I find truly incredible, however, is how despite all this, how absolutely and adorably happy our students are. Alé and I are greeted by literally a huge mob of smiling little faces and massive hugs every morning. Yesterday when the preescolares were (admittedly) driving us nuts, one of the little girls handed me a picture with the words “Te amo Kate” (“I love you Kate”) written among many colorful hearts and flowers. Despite the moments of culture shock and frustrations I have felt so far, this moment truly made all these difficult times seem so trivial. It made me remember why I am here. I truly believe that I am in Costa Rica this year for a reason, and although its certainly not glamorous or easy, I know its going to be so worth it. 




Muchos Besos,


Kate 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Two Week Countdown!!!

Well it’s official!!! I will be on my way to San José on August 27th!!! The rush of emotions I have had so far is insane; I tend to go from ecstatic to terrified to overwhelmed every time I think about this upcoming year. Although I am nervous, I have talked to the bishop multiple times about my impending arrival and chatting with him seems to put me more at ease as I learn more about the new life I am about to embark on. 

 (My new home in two weeks! Pic from http://goo.gl/d3TLNO)


I just seriously cannot believe that I am about to be an expat for a year. I remember sending in my application for YASC on a whim back in late December, and I am so glad I allowed myself to take a leap of faith and open up myself to this experience that will be undoubtedly life-changing. Although the idea of teaching English for the first time and freshening up my admittedly-rusty Spanish is nerve-wracking, I am up for the challenge and look forward to growing and learning from this experience.


Additionally, after a two-week orientation in July with such an incredible group of YASCers, I can’t help but feel so honored to be part of a group of so many kind, adventurous, fun, and spiritual people. I am so glad to have met them and I know we have an incredible next year ahead of us!

 (Our group!)
I can't thank those of you enough who have offered me unending support throughout this whole experience. For those who have already contributed, THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! I am over 2/3 of the way to my $10,000 goal, and I seriously cannot express how much your support means to me. I truly could not do this without your help. For those who are still considering donating, somehow my un-tech savvy self figured out how to create a separate tab for donations, so please check that out if you're interested.

I will continue to keep y’all updated as I get ready for my upcoming adventure. Can’t wait to see ya soon, Costa Rica!!!!

Muchos Besos,


Kate 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bienvenidos!

Hey, hey everybody!



My name is Kate, and I am a recent college grad from the University of the South. This next year, I have committed myself to working at the Hogar Escuela in San José, Costa Rica through the Episcopal Church’s Young Adult Service Corps. I am SO excited to have such an amazing opportunity to live and work in this beautiful country!

You might be thinking... Why is a former J.Crew employee/sorority girl going to do mission work in Latin America?? Well... Long story short, I had (literally) a "come to Jesus” moment last semester during finals when I panicked that I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. After multiple internships in the corporate world, I had yet to find something that made me tick and grabbed my interest. I could not imagine submitting myself to cubicle life and the photocopying/coffee girl existence that plagued many recent grads. I had dabbled in and out of various majors and career ambitions throughout the years, and I realized that besides for knowing that I wanted to work with kids and do something abroad, I was essentially clueless. Most importantly though, I wanted to do something interesting and meaningful that made a bigger difference in the world. When I heard about YASC, it sounded like an incredible opportunity to not only combine my faith and desire to travel, but incorporate this wish to do something important with my life.

After doing some research about the Hogar Escuela, I am so excited to be working for such an incredible organization. About fifty years ago, the Episcopal Church saw a need for the children of the Barrio Cuba, San José’s poorest neighborhood. The Hogar Escuela was built from the ground up to provide an education and safe haven for these kids. The school also provides nutritionist-developed meals and snacks, homework help, after school activities, and simply a loving, safe environment. While these children are being cared for, their mothers then have the opportunity to go pursue work or an education with the knowledge that their children are in safe hands. This care is all provided free of charge to families who otherwise would not be able to afford such resources. I feel so incredibly blessed to be working with these sweet kids and wonderful, selfless people who have devoted their lives to such an amazing cause.

There is a fundraising component to my job, and I need to raise $10,000 by the end of my year abroad in order to pursue this opportunity. I am currently working on getting a link up for online donations, so please stay tuned! I know 10 grand seems like a lot, but it roughly comes down to about $30 per day. Every little bit counts, so if you feel compelled, I would love if any readers could help me in any little way possible :)

Please stay tuned for more updates. I can’t wait for this wonderful adventure!!!

Muchos Besos,


Kate